Intended as the soundtrack to the revealing documentary Herbst 1929, Schatten Über Babylon by acclaimed director Volker Heise, which, a century on, shines a light on the rebellious real life world in which the third season of the hit fictional contemporary television show Babylon Berlin is set, the intensely sensorial and criminally short new album, by minimal techno pioneer and Berlin resident Thomas Fehlmann, gives life to the fallen and the voiceless. Built upon recordings of brittle vinyl taken from the period, these 10 subversive assemblages erratically crackle and organically thump, producing a subsuming feeling of physical warmth, narrative intimacy and historical truthfulness.
Fehlmann first made a name for himself, fresh out of art school, as a member of the friendly NDW dilettantes Palais Schumberg. Ushering in an era of countercultural debauchery and politically reactive creativity not seen since the 1930s, the bands that made up the initial discharge of the Neue Deutsche Welle, such as Einstürzende Neubauten, DAF and Malaria! (Featuring Fehlmann’s real life partner and musical iconoclast Gudrun Gut) took inspiration from punk and began creating DIY networks, formulating intellectually provocative music alluding to the fractious state of their post-war country, combining irreverent electronics and vocal samples into their eclectic repertoire.
After that tumultuous period he went on to spend two decades with ambient hallucinatory heroes The Orb alongside Dr Alex Paterson, before diverging creatively and finding a home for his poignant musical stirrings on the influential Kompakt label. Cloaking any identifiable musical comforts to fashion its ghostly tick-tocking rhythm, Vergessen, which provides the entry point for listeners to the record, has Fehlmann hermetically sealing a hundred years of Germanic decadence in a bubble of meditative digital plurality, miraculously coming across both ancient and über contemporary at once. Avoiding the taboo of exploiting the dead, the track draws breath from its pleasurable theatricality.
Tracks like the spritely Karnickel, forged out of a coiling three note horn motif, and the subconscious waltz of Freche Freunde gainfully rearticulate the Jazz Age for the cynical modern era, while on the enigmatic Mit Ausblick and the more pronounced jittering of Abgestellt you catch glimpses of the simmering undercurrent of unpleasantness that eventually pulverised the fragile nation. Fortunately those rigid patriotic aggressions are diffused once more on the chimerically shunting abstractions of Vulkan and Umarmt. On the intriguing Wunschwechsler, Überschneidungen and Auf Die Spitze, Fehlmann further articulates the utopian similarities between past and present through these sentimental melodic commonalities.
The rather morose title of the album may translate in its mother tongue to ‘bad autumn’, but this anthropologically piercing and dream like recording offers those who have the privilege of listening to it, a decidedly heavenly summery experience. If Böser Herbst has a musical precedent, it would be in the party boy recontextualizations of Fehlmann’s current label mate The Field or possibly the granular melodramas of William Basinski. However, these ambiguously historic loops don’t mournfully disintegrate; rather they embrace one another compassionately arm in arm, rejecting intolerance and deviation to dance and rejoice agelessly, around the pyrrhic ashes of glorious Weimar excess.